Citizens of the Year

From left, local mental health advocates Corinne Cavender, Cara Wilder and Lollie Lavercombe were named Telluride Foundation’s 2021 Citizen of the Year recipients. (Courtesy photo)

Since 2003, the Telluride Foundation Board of Directors has given the annual Citizen of the Year award to community members who make a difference throughout the region. Over the years, the award has gone to individuals in the arts and nonprofit communities, as well as emergency response groups, like last year’s recipients San Miguel County Search & Rescue and Ouray County Response Fund founders Marti and Patrick O’Leary and Cat and Barthold Lichtenbelt.

The board recently announced the 2021 Citizen of the Year award recipients are local mental health advocates Corinne Cavender, Lollie Lavercombe and Cara Wilder for their “exemplary volunteerism in such an important topic plaguing many, especially through the pandemic,” according to the announcement.

“The Telluride Foundation created its Citizen of the Year award to honor individuals who unselfishly make extraordinary contributions to the region’s quality of life. This year’s recipients have worked hard to bring awareness, education, and prevention to a topic that needs support and champions in our community,” foundation president and CEO Paul Major said in a news release.

The Telluride Foundation will hold a community celebration in the spring. The trio will receive a commemorative plaque and a grant of $5,000 to be given in their name to local nonprofits of their choice.

Cavender admitted she cried when Lavercombe shared the news with her recently.

“Lollie texted me that she had news, so I gave her a call and there were instant tears. My first thought was, ‘Wow. I am so grateful these women are in my life and I get to fight for such an important cause alongside them.’ We had absolutely no idea we were nominated, and I came to find out later a lot of people in our lives were submitting nominations without our knowledge. It almost felt like we were the last to know, which really felt so cool to have our community advocating for us,” she said. “For us as a group, we don't volunteer for the Out of the Darkness Walk for the accolades, and we don't really have a way to measure how effective we are. We notice when we lose someone to suicide, but can't measure those we have helped. Hearing that so many people pushed for us to win this award proved to us that what we are doing is impacting people for the better, and that is the best outcome we could have hoped for.”

Cavender, Lavercombe and Wilder have been involved in the annual organized walk to support suicide prevention in various roles over the last several years.

Cavendar, who is also the Behavioral Health Solutions Executive Assistant at Tri-County Health Network, volunteers for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is a Telluride Volleyball Club coach. Starting graduate school at the University of Denver in June, she’ll study social work with an emphasis in mental health and trauma with plans to eventually become a therapist.

“All of my work around behavioral health was inspired by the loss of my brother's good friend, Maneet, to suicide. He is one of the guiding lights in everything I do,” Cavendar explained.  

Wilder is also pursuing a master’s degree with a focus on counseling and wants to become a therapist given the need for them within the community. 

“We have so many incredible therapists in the area, but we need more. My goal is to support and give back to the community that has given so much to me,” she said in the release. “I am honored and grateful to share this with Lollie and Corinne. These two women are fierce advocates for mental health and inspire me every day. Above all else, we hope you always remember you are not alone, and you are loved.”

Wilder has also volunteered in various mental health aid roles. 

Similarly, Lavercombe, who has lived in Telluride for over five years and served on the suicide prevention walk committee since 2017, is a big advocate for mental health and finding ways to intentionally check in on the people we love. 

“And on those we may not know as well, too,” she added.

Lavercombe has worked and volunteered for many businesses and organizations over the years, including Mountainfilm, The Butcher and The Baker, Rainbow Rockies Preschool and After School Program, Telski lift operations, and Telluride Youth Club Soccer.

All three recipients agreed that there is still more work to be done regarding mental health resources and education, and the pandemic has helped show where the gaps are.

“Now that COVID is becoming a part of everyday life, it seems like we, as a community, are still trying to make sure mental health conversations are occurring regularly. Being able to talk about what you are going through and actually getting the services you need are different though. The pandemic has absolutely shown us where there are gaps in resources. Next steps are to work on trying to fill those gaps,” Cavendar said.

She added local businesses and organizations have an opportunity to help in that by providing more access to such resources for their employees.

This year’s trio of advocates share the honor with previous recipients Terry Tice (2003), Lissa Margetts (2004), John Micetic (2005), Bill Carstens (2006), John Pryor and Jane Hickcox (2007), Kathy Green (2008), Marilyn Branch (2009), Dan and Greer Garner and Andrea Benda (2010), Billy “Senior” Mahoney (2011), Anne Brady (2012), Dean Rolley (2013), Kristin Holbrook (2014), Gary Freedman (2015), Elaine Fischer (2016), Wendy Brooks (2017), Susan Rice (2018), Barb Gross (2019), and San Miguel County Search & Rescue and Ouray County Response Fund founders Marti and Patrick O’Leary and Cat and Barthold Lichtenbelt (2020). 

“Thank you again for this incredible honor,” Wilder said. “We are speechless and overwhelmed with gratitude. It has been amazing to see this community embrace the importance of mental health and suicide awareness and prevention, especially as we have collectively faced the stress of an ongoing pandemic, housing crisis, labor shortage and the everyday struggles that come with being human. We live in a beautiful place, but that doesn't invalidate struggle. To me, this means so much more than a title or recognition. It shows that Telluride is getting behind an invaluable cause. We are looking forward to continuing to build mental health resources to support this special community.”